Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Is this the best we could do?

Whatsoever you do to the least of my
brothers and sisters, that you do unto me.
Matthew 25:40

A wise man once said, "A society is ultimately judged by how it treats its weakest and most vulnerable members."

Judging by the outpouring of sympathy and assistance after global events like last year's tsunami in Southeast Asia or the ongoing famine in Africa, you'd assume that America is the most compassionate and generous nation on the planet. Then Katrina hit land and the facade shattered live on television under the unforgiving eye of the 24 hour news cycle. The scenes of chaos and suffering have been shocking and bewildering. And everywhere you hear the same question, "How could this happen in America?"

Like every other situation, there are people who will react positively and people who will react negatively. I've admitted before that I'm one of those who expect the best from people ... and I'm sure it's no surprise to learn that I'm frequently disappointed. In the last few days, I've read several heartless, callus comments posted on message boards and blogs from our own people who say things like, "They made the poor decision not to evacuate and now they have to live with it."

It's one thing to discuss poverty from afar ... it's quite another thing to see the consequences of poverty in your own back yard. The majority of the hurricane victims in New Orleans and the Gulf shore area did not choose to ignore the evacuation order. It's hard to evacuate if you don't have transportation ... harder still to evacuate when you have no means to support yourself once you've left your home. If you have no money for a hotel room, where will you go? If you have no vehicle, how will you get there?

For me, the first sign of impending doom came Saturday, August 27th when CNN interviewed Michael Brown of FEMA who said with a straight face that they expected churchs, synagogues, and other faith-based organizations to start driving around picking up the sick, elderly, and impoverished who needed to be evacuated from the city. So we're to believe that our government genuinely expected small, neighborhood churches to evacuate 10,000 residents out of the basin? Either they were incredibly naive ... or they hoped we were.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, admitted "Governments at all levels failed. It is difficult to understand the lack of preparedness and the ineffective initial response to a disaster that had been predicted for years, and for which specific, dire warnings had been given for days."

There's obviously more than enough blame to go around and yet former president George H.W. Bush told CNN he objected to what he called the "blame game" over the response to Katrina by federal, state and local government officials. Big Daddy Bush singled out the remark made by rapper Kanye West who basically said that President George W. Bush "doesn't care about" black people. "That one hurt because I know this president and I know that he does care," said the elder Bush. "What can he do?"

What can he do? Are you serious? What happened to "promote the general welfare"? If we were aware that a category five hurricane was headed towards a flood-prone area, why weren't FEMA and the National Guard sitting AT the Louisiana/Texas border waiting for the storm to pass so they could be there in a matter of hours instead of days?

Let's get one thing straight. I'm far from religious and if I had to choose a label, I'd describe myself as spiritual ... because I do believe in God and most importantly I believe it's our purpose to live lives that make the world a better place. In my eyes, that doesn't mean we have to charge at windmills and try to save the world ... but that we interact with the people and events around us in a positive way.

And even though I'm not religious, I believe it's our responsibility to look out for the "least of our brothers and sisters." The world is watching and many, many of our weakest and most vulnerable have terrible stories to tell. We can only hope George W. Bush and his cronies will be made to answer for this real-life horror story.

She calls out to the man on the street
"Sir, can you help me?"
It's cold and I've nowhere to sleep
Is there somewhere you can tell me?

He walks on, doesn't look back
He pretends he can't hear her
Starts to whistle as he crosses the street
Seems embarrassed to be there

Oh think twice
It's another day for
You and me in paradise
Oh think twice
It's just another day for you,
You and me in paradise

Phil Collins - Another Day In Paradise